The Gun Map: Journalistic Malpractice

The recent publication of a "Gun Map" by New York newspaper Journal News was unethical, irresponsible, and not in the best interest of the public.

By Emily Judd

On Jan. 18, the recent backlash against the Journal News, a newspaper based in New York’s Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, came to a head.  Recently, the newspaper published a controversial interactive map on its website lohud.com. The map allowed any person to see who in the Westchester and Rockland counties has a license to own handguns. Licensees were represented by a red dot. The name and address of the licensee accompanied the dot.  The map received much criticism from the public because of its invasive nature and the effects of its publication.

After spending twenty-seven days defending the publication of the map, the Journal News finally removed it from the website.  Publisher Janet Hasson stated that the map was being taken down because they “believe those who wanted to view it have done so already. As well, with the passage of time, the data will become outdated and inaccurate.” Using the excuse of “timing” is an insult to everyone who has been harassed, put in danger, or embarrassed because of the map. There are other more logical reasons why they should have taken it down, or never published it in the first place.

After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut the issue of gun laws exploded into the national debate.  The counties documented in the map border Fairfield County, the location of Newton. The Journal News took advantage of this. After the Newtown tragedy, many Americans have felt threatened by anyone with a gun.  This is understandable and the reason why the national discussion of gun control has continued.

But the murderer of the Sandy Hook massacre did not have a gun license.  What is the logic of a newspaper targeting those who have legally obtained gun permits?  After this horrible tragedy, some seem to have drawn the conclusion that licensed gun owners are dangerous and do not have the right to privacy. These people are not criminals and do not deserve to be humiliated, targeted, or punished for having a gun license.

It does not seem that the Journal News had any of the permit holders’ best interests in mind, nor does it seem the newspaper was doing this in the best interest of the public. Ex-burglars came forward to speak about how this map enables future burglaries.  Anyone could access this map, so why wouldn’t a burglar use the map as a tool to ascertain which house poses a threat?  A criminal can simply eliminate the houses with occupants that own guns, and concentrate on the homes that would offer them the least resistance. The newspaper put households without gun permits in just as much danger as homes with  gun licensees.

In an ironic twist, the Journal News hired armed guards for protection after the backlash of this article.  It is obvious that the Journal News had some underlying fear of citizens with guns, and they now feel the need to protect themselves from such people.  Hopefully this “journalistic” practice will not be repeated, given the public’s reaction.  Manufacturing controversy to gain attention at the expense of law-abiding citizens is not journalism.

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